Saturday, August 2, 2008

What's in a Name?

Everything! A name can completely define a character. How romantic is it to read about a heroine who is supposed to be strong, willful, beautiful, intelligent, etc. but is stuck with a name like “Martha”? (No offense to any Martha’s out there.) But when it comes to a romance novel, it truly is a struggle to come up with that perfect name!

I’ve experienced this sort of trouble countless times, and how does one resolve it? Baby Name books or websites are a great starting point. ( is a good reference.

Things to consider are:
1. The way a name sounds – if it is too hard to say aloud, it is probably not a great choice. Imagine your lead characters stumbling over themselves trying to whisper in passion.
2. The way a name looks – This is important, because if a reader has to look at a name throughout the whole book, it needs to be interesting.
3. The meaning of a name – You might think that the name “Kennedy” is perfect. It looks good, sounds good, brings to mind images of President Kennedy, great man that he was. But did you know that it’s meaning in Gaelic is: armored head; deformed head? Someone is going to catch that!
4. Uniqueness – You want your main characters to stand out from the crowd. While it is perfectly okay to choose a common name, you might want to think about updating the spelling to make it different. Don’t go too out there or you’ll make readers scratch their heads.

Now me personally, I have a liking for Gaelic/Celtic names, names with elemental meanings, and weird as it is, I prefer names that start with what I consider pretty letters (this may vary for you); A, F, J, K, L, R, S, X, Z are some of my faves.

A little background on some of my character’s names:
Gyrfalke – Originally, her name started out as Kestrel, like mine, but I already had a character named Kestrel (Salome); and further research into falconry told me that a Kestrel was not exactly a “noble” bird, so I opted to change it. The gyrfalcon is one of the most favored birds to use, so I looked into different spellings from different languages, and Gyrfalke is German. It sounded the most like a possible name, so there you go. (You might hate it, but her name is official!)
Salome – Her real name is Salome Mercer, her pseudonym is Kestrel Sinclair. Salome is the notorious dancer that demanded the head of John the Baptist. Quite the man-eater, as is my character. She is scheming and eminently practical, but also very passionate. This name just fits her perfect. As for Kestrel, in addition to being my own nickname, a Kestrel is a rather flighty bird, and Salome’s alter ego is a very mysterious character. Sinclair sounds prestigious to me, so there you go.
Anne and Kate Lawrence – Their names are actually Suzanne and Katherine, being twins, they opted for nicknames to save time with each other, as well as to distinguish themselves from “society”. I was also trying to think of names that could be adapted into pseudonyms for when they are on the trail of their prey. Sioux Anne and Kiowa Kate; or just Sioux and Kiowa as they’ll be known.
Zoe Benedict – Her name is actually Zosephine, which combines two of my favorite names when I was younger, Zoe and Josephine.

Up for debate:
Empress – Because this story takes place in an “alternate world” if you will, I need her name to sound sufficiently “out there” while still retaining properties of known names. In my mind, her country has a very Indo-Arabic feel to it, and in lots of fantasy, names are often hyphenated. Tentatively, her name is Syndra-Kai. When I get to that point in my writing, I will take suggestions and put it to a vote.
Elf – I have no idea what to call her yet! I need to do some digging into elven lore; there are so many people out there who are so into this kind of thing, I want to stick with “Lord of the Rings” type language or names when it comes to her people and her name, to keep fantasy writers in step with me. I can’t go calling her “Jane”.
Australia – I don’t even know, back to the baby name books. Something traditionally British I think, considering her origins.

Anyone else out there have thoughts on naming characters?

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